•••despite existence child rights law for 17 years
Its been 17 years since the Fderal Government of Nigeria passed the Child’s Rights Act into law, but experts in children’s rights and advocacy matters have decried the fact that progress has been slow.
They contended that despite the law, the cases of violence, abuse against the Nigerian child is on the rise while their voices are still being stifled.
A Child’s Rights expert and a consultant for the Rule of Law and Anti Corruption (ROLAC) programme, Ms. Ugonna Ezekwe, said the Act which was passed in 2003 has suffered low implementation because government lacks the political will to, and public awareness on the act is poor amongst others.
Ezekwe stated this at the end of a ‘Two-Day Training of Police Officers and Investigators in Handling Children in Conflict with the Law’ organised by ROLAC Programme of the British Council and funded by European Union.
“The law has not been implemented. Passing the law is one thing, implementing it is another and the incidence of child abuse have been increasing in the society.
“Government do not see the issue of children as a priority, which is very unfortunate, because these are the children who are our future. They do not prioritize issues relating to children mainly because, children cannot speak for themselves. They don’t have a voice”, she lamented .
Ezekwe informed that one of the main goals of the training is to increase knowledge and awareness around the Child Rights Act for efficient implementation. She noted that the child rights act prescribes some standards in dealing with children or handling cases that involves children.
She said: “For the past two days, we have been training police officers mainly investigators, prosecutors and officials of the specialised police children’s unit and handling of cases that involves children
“This training was informed by the fact that we have a Child’s Rights Act in Nigeria that was passed in 2003, but an assessment was done and we found that the law was not being implemented and most people were not aware of the law. And some were not even aware of the roles they have to play under the law.
“So, ROLAC took it upon themselves to try to ensure that at least the project allows that the law would be implemented for the good of children and for the good of the Nigerian society.”
The ROLAC consultant further informed that the process has started since last year where they have trained Judges, Family Court Assessors, Police Officers, Correctional Service Officers and all those who have a role to play to ensure that the child rights act is implemented in Nigeria.
The expert further informed that ROLAC in an effort to amplify the voices of children, established a Children’s Parliament in 2018 where the children can advocate for their own courses for themselves.
She noted that one the aims of the Children’s Parliament will be targeting is to task government on the establishment of a Correctional Centre for children. She also expressed concern that some children are languishing in prison where they end up being hardened criminals.
“There is no correctional centres even in Abuja for children, which is very serious, it won’t even cost up to 500 million to establish one and yet we don’t have it”, she said.
Also speaking, a Child Protection Justice expert, Mr. Willy Mamah, also speaking to the end of the workshop also noted that the law has not reduced the incidence, and said there has been increased report of cases against children in the society.
Mamah said another goal of the training is to expose participants on the specialised method of handling children when they commit offences, know how to identify the rights of children and the right procedure of handling children cases because the police is the first gate for children.
He added that the training will reduce incidences of children being sent to prison. He expressed concern that a lot of children are in prison and mostly for minor offences where they become more hardened.
Mamah therefore called on government to provide enabling environment and structures, like the establishing correctional centres for children, community Rehabilitation centres.
He regretted that Nigeria has very few correctional centres and tue only Rehabilitation centres is in Lagos and was funded by UNICEF. He said the programme ought ro be replicated across states.
Mamah also called on the need for a legal aid system to encourage lawyers to take up children cases pro bono Lawyers, because according to him, children are not being represented and that’s why they are in prison.
Participants highlighted various case of abuse against children. They expressed deep concern that the children not only suffer physical pains but some have died from it.
Another issue brought to the fore by the participants is that most victims are afraid to speak up for fear of victimisation and stigmatization and thus suffer in silence and worse is that the parents are often tue offenders.
They expressed their readiness to see to the implementation of the Child Rights act 2003.